Is running bad for you?

I don’t know how many times someone has said these words to me: “running is bad for your knees” or “isn’t running hard on your body?” Up to about 18 months ago I would probably have begrudgingly agreed with them.  With my stop-start injury plagued running career all the evidence needed to support their running nay-saying.  Having been through the process of rebuilding my running technique I can happily take on these running pessimists before they get on a roll.  The stock answer now becomes “running badly is bad for your body”, what I’ve learned is that running with proper technique and a sensible training approach is no more damaging than any other form of exercise.

People have been conditioned overtime into believing the natural human movement of running is somehow dangerous to your health.  Tell that to an African child who runs five miles to school and back everyday – sorry kid, “running is bad for you.”  I find it hard to imagine the response; you’re now denied your primary mode of transportation.  And don’t forget the child is likely running barefoot, something that until recently was considered about as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.  But having said that don’t compost your old running shoes just yet, jumping straight into running natural when you’re used to wearing inch-thick running shoes does carry some risks.

So who is to blame?  Sports physicians or running shoe companies perhaps?  There’s certainly a big emphasis on talking about shock adsorption, the now famous evil of pronation and choosing running shoes on the basis of the shape of your foot.  All of which completely ignores how you actually run.  If we put heavily cushioned shoes on a runner that already hits the ground hard.  What does this achieve?  Not much, we’re treating the symptom of poor running technique not the cause.  In a way we’re conditioning ourselves to run with worse technique by using technology that encourages poor running form.   I’ll be digging into more detail around the merits of running shoe design, matching shoes to foot-type and barefoot running in the coming months.  I’ll leave you with one thought to consider when you’re next asked to walk over or stand on a pressure plate before a shoe salesperson relieves you of $200 – what relationship does this bear to the way I run?

I used to be the kind if runner that avoided hard surfaces – the guy who runs on the grass between the road and the footpath.  Concrete and asphalt were my enemies and I cloaked my body in protective armour before going into battle with them.  My checklist of protection included $260 motion controlled cushioned shoes, padded inserts, heavily cushioned socks and even then a short burst on the road had my shins aching.  None of this technology prevented me getting injured and there’s some good arguments emerging that over-prescription of heavy motion controlled shoes may in-fact cause injury.

So what do I run in now?  Generally as little as possible, shoes and socks that this.  I’m not a fully fledged barefoot devotee ; thirty plus years of wearing shoes, training in a rocky environment and my imperfect biomechanics make this impractical.  I run in shoes that are considered marathon racers, the Adios by Adidas – they don’t have any motion control features, but do have enough cushioning and a little heel to make them a reasonable shoe for someone running moderate mileage to use as a daily trainer.  I run about half my miles in these shoes and the other half in Nike Frees the 5.0 and 3.0 models.  I’ll be reviewing these shoe models in future posts to give you some more information about how to use them safely and why they make a good intermediate position between heavily cushioned shoes and running without shoes at all.  Running with good technique is definitely not bad for you and the war with concrete and asphalt is a winnable one if you know how.

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